The Vankleek Hill Cougars exhibition season has been put temporarily on ice.

Officials with the team were informed on Monday that the ice at the Vankleek Hill Community Centre will not be ready in time for the pre-season game against the St-Isidore Eagles scheduled for Wednesday, September 13. The two teams were working to see if the game can be rescheduled before the regular season.

In a contest they were able to play, the Cougars kicked off their pre-season in style on Sunday, September 10, taking a 3-1 exhibition game road win over the Gatineau-Hull Volant. The Cougars and Volant will rematch this Saturday, September 16, in Vankleek Hill. The ice surface is expected to be ready to go for Saturday’s game.

On Sunday, September 17, Vankleek Hill will close out the exhibition season with a matchup against the Eagles in St-Isidore. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at the St-Isidore Arena.

The Cougars will kick off the regular season on Saturday, September 23, when they host the Metcalfe Jets. Game time at the Vankleek Hill Community Centre is 7:30 p.m.

Vankleek Hill and St-Isidore will face off again in regular season play on Sunday, September 24, at the St-Isidore Arena, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

New coaches take over

New Vankleek Hill Head Coach Nicolas Pharand has taken over the reins of the team from longtime Cougars skipper Franky Dopelhamer, who remains with the organization as co-owner. Pharand has served as an assistant coach with the team since 2020. Jacob Belanger and Zack Bougie will serve as Pharand’s assistant coaches this season. Keean McEachern has also joined the team as Assistant General Manager.

The Cougars’ new head coach is expecting the team to compete for the National Capital Junior Hockey League Championship in 2022-2023, with a solid core of players back, including last year’s captain Mikael Bissonnette and assistant captain Joshua Desjardins, who are returning as 21-year-olds – although the final roster has not been determined.

“No one is signed yet,” Pharand noted. “The team hasn’t been finalized.”

With a good solid core returning, the focus for the team’s coaches has been on the younger players hoping to make the Cougars. And the team’s head coach has been pleased with what he has seen so far.

“We’ve got a lot of 17 and 18-year-olds at the camp and we’re really surprised with what we have,” Pharand enthused. “There are going to be some really tough decisions for us over the next week.”

“As far as forwards go, we should have four solid lines.”

Sophomore netminder Jeremie Tessier has attended camp, but is currently in tryouts with the Junior B Alexandria Glens.

“We’re in contact with him.” Pharand said, noting the team is working out several goaltenders.

When the puck drops on the regular season on September 23, most of the questions on the roster should be answered and Pharand is optimistic the team will fight for top spot in the NCJHL.

“We’re not sore losers, but we don’t like to lose,” said Pharand of the Cougars, who finished fifth overall in the NCJHL in 2022-2023. “We want to win the cup – that’s our goal.”

The team’s new head coach is also hoping fans will flock to the upgraded Vankleek Hill Community Centre, as the Cougars return to Vankleek Hill after playing home games in Hawkesbury last season.

“We want the fans to come out and cheers us on.,” Pharand said. “We need them there to pump our guys up.”